Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Types of skin cancer

Men and woman discussing skin cancer

This page tells you about the different types of non melanoma skin cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Types of skin cancer

Non melanoma skin cancer is different from melanoma. Melanoma is the type of skin cancer that most often develops from a mole. If you are looking for information on melanoma, go to the separate section on melanoma skin cancer.

There are 2 main types of non melanoma skin cancer. There are also several much rarer types.

Basal cell skin cancer

About 75 out of every 100 cases (75%) of non melanoma skin cancers diagnosed are this type. Basal cell skin cancer develops mostly in areas exposed to the sun, but can develop on your back or lower legs. It is most often diagnosed in middle or old age. It is very rare for a basal cell skin cancer to spread to another part of the body.

Squamous cell skin cancer

About 20 out of every 100 cases (20%) of skin cancers are this type. It usually develops in areas that have been exposed to the sun. If squamous cell cancer does spread, it is most often to the deeper layers of the skin. Occasionally, it can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other organs, causing secondary cancers.

Rare skin cancer types

Much less common types of non melanoma skin cancer are Merkel cell carcinoma, Kaposi's sarcoma and T cell lymphoma of the skin.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about skin cancer section.

 

 

Types of non melanoma skin cancer

Non melanoma skin cancer includes 2 main types: basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer. They are named after the types of skin cells from which the cancers develop. It is possible for a non melanoma skin cancer to be a mixture of both these types

Non melanoma skin cancer is different from melanoma. Melanoma is the type of skin cancer that most often develops from a mole. If you are looking for information on melanoma, please go to the section about melanoma.

 

Basal cell skin cancer

This is the most common type of skin cancer. About 75 out of every 100 cases (75%) of non melanoma skin cancers diagnosed are this type. This cancer develops from basal cells. These cells are in the deepest layer of the epidermis and around the hair follicle. It develops mostly in areas of skin exposed to the sun. These areas include parts of the face such as the nose, forehead and cheeks. But basal cell skin cancer can develop on your back or lower legs. It is most often diagnosed in people in middle or old age.

Your doctor might call your cancer a basal cell carcinoma (BCC). It is also known as a rodent ulcer. It may start as a small lump that gets bigger. The edges usually have a shiny or pearly look. The middle is usually depressed (sunken). Sometimes the middle becomes crusty or an ulcer develops. An ulcer is an area that is breaking down and begins to get deeper. BCC's do not usually hurt unless knocked. But they can be itchy and may bleed if scratched. If the BCC is not treated they can get bigger  ̶̶  wider and deeper. They can affect other types of tissue such as cartilage or even bone. But advanced rodent ulcers are very rare in the UK because most people get treatment at an early stage.

There are a number of different subtypes of basal cell skin cancers. These include

  • Nodular
  • Superficial
  • Morphoeic
  • Pigmented

Each of these subtypes can look and behave differently. About half the number of BCCs diagnosed are the nodular type.

It is very rare for basal cell skin cancer to spread to another part of the body to form a secondary cancer. But it is possible to have more than one basal cell cancer at any one time. And having had one does increase your risk of getting another.

 

Squamous cell skin cancer

About 20 out of every 100 cases (20%) of skin cancers diagnosed are this type. This cancer begins in cells called keratinocytes, which are found in the epidermis. Squamous cell cancer (SCC) most often develops in areas that have been exposed to the sun. These areas include parts of the head, neck, and on the back of your hands and forearms. In a small number of cases squamous cell cancer can develop around your vulva or anus. It can also develop in

  • Scars
  • Areas of skin that have been burnt in the past
  • Areas of skin that have been ulcerated for a long time

Squamous cell skin cancer can look like a crusty, scaly ulcer. Or it may be bumpy and hard and develop into an ulcer. SCC's are generally faster growing than basal cell cancers.

Squamous cell skin cancer doesn't very often spread. But if it does spread it is most often to the deeper layers of the skin. Sometimes, it can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other organs causing secondary cancers.

 

Rarer types of non melanoma skin cancer

There are other less common types of skin cancer. Added together, these types make up only about 1 out of every 100 (1%) skin cancers diagnosed in the UK. They are

  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • T cell lymphoma of the skin

These cancers are all treated differently from basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.  

Merkel cell carcinoma is very rare. Treatment is with surgery or radiotherapy, or both. This usually works well, but sometimes the cancer can come back in the same place. And sometimes it spreads to nearby lymph nodes. 

Kaposi’s sarcoma is a rare condition. It is often associated with HIV infection. But it can also occur in people who do not have HIV infection. It is a cancer that begins in the cells that form the lining of blood vessels in the skin. You may have surgery or radiotherapy, and sometimes chemotherapy.

T cell lymphoma of the skin can also be called primary cutaneous lymphoma. There is information about T cell lymphoma of the skin in the non Hodgkin lymphoma section.

 

Bowen's disease

Bowen’s disease is a very early form of non melanoma skin cancer. It is sometimes called carcinoma in situ. If not treated, it can develop into squamous cell skin cancer.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 4 out of 5 based on 65 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 9 September 2014